Checking on the National League at the season's half way mark
The Braves (47-34) started hot with a 17-9 April, but are a more modest 30-25 since. There are concerns with Upton here Upton here as Justin has cooled significantly since his hot start, while BJ Upton still hasn’t gotten going. The good news is Jason Heyward has picked it up in June, even if his overall numbers are still depressed. The strength of the team though is the pitching, which have made Atlanta the best run prevention team in the league. With the rest of the division stuck in mediocrity or worse, things are looking good for Atlanta to return to the playoffs.
Last week I looked at the struggles of the Nationals (40-40) in full, and obviously not much has changed since. They’ve been within 2 games of .500 in either direction every day since May 19th. Something’s off here, particularly on offense. They aren’t out of it by any stretch, but at some point they need to show they can play as well as everyone expected. Most still think those Nationals are in there somewhere, especially when Bryce Harper gets back.
The Phillies (39-43) are aging (except Dominic Brown) and mediocre (except Cliff Lee and Chase Utley). Plain and simple. It’s time to start rebuilding, and everyone seems to know that except the Phillies’ brass. The Mets (33-44) are Matt Harvey, David Wright, the potential of Zach Wheeler, and not much else. The less said about the Marlins (28-51) the better. They are on pace for a 105 loss season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates (50-30) have the best record in baseball. It’s looking less and less likely that the Pirates will collapse back below .500 for the third straight year. The offense is as balanced as any in baseball, with Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez having breakout seasons. The pitching has been even more impressive. The main concern right now is a rotation missing its two top veterans AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez (who suffered a setback in rehab yesterday). Jeff Locke also has regression written all over him (.225 BABIP), and while Francisco Liriano has been great, who knows how long he’ll stay healthy. Gerrit Cole, of course, cures a lot of potential ills.
For most of the year, the Cardinals (49-31) have been the class of the field. A young rotation has matured quickly and is the envy of just about every team in baseball. Yadier Molina is again an MVP candidate, while Matt Carpenter has broken out, and Holliday and Beltran are their usual selves. An earlier weakness at closer has been filled by Edward Mujica. The only noticeable weakness at this point for St. Louis is Pete Kozma, who’s back to being a complete zero at the plate. That’s a quibble though. The Cardinals are scuffling just a bit right now, but through the first half, there’s been no better team.
With all the attention paid towards Pittsburgh and St. Louis, it’s easy to forget the Reds (46-35). Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo are 1-2 in the NL in on-base percentage to lead the third best offense in the league. The Reds have used six starters this year, all of whom have an ERA+ of at least 103. Top to bottom, this is one the better teams in the league, but they find themselves third in the division. The biggest concern right now is Johnny Cueto’s continuing injury problems, but so far Tony Cingrani has found himself up to the task of replacing him. Don’t sleep on the Reds, who have a 5 ½ game lead for the second wild card.
The Cubs (34-45) weren’t supposed to be any good, and not surprisingly they haven’t been. The two stories to watch here are who will get traded, and what is wrong with Starlin Castro? His .233/.267/.330 line is very worrisome given the extension he signed. Castro has to hit .300 or close to it to be a franchise player, but right now he’s lost. The Brewers (32-47) have Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, all among the top of the heap at their positions this year. Why are they so bad? Everyone else. The pitching particularly has been putrid. Kyle Lohse is their only starter with an ERA+ over 100, and the Brewers are dead last in the NL in run prevention.
This division is as tight as the AL East, only with much more flawed teams. The Diamondbacks (42-38) lead for now and are the only team above .500 through Saturday. Offensively, Paul Goldschmidt is driving the bus, making up for down years by guys like Kubel and Montero. Pitching wise, replace Goldschmidt with Patrick Corbin. Corbin has been a gem, needed as the rest of the rotation has either struggled or been injured. The talent is there, but Arizona really hasn’t taken advantage of the Giants and Dodgers struggles.
Most everyone thought the Rockies (41-41) would be terrible this season. Oops. Colorado got off to a hot start, and while they’ve cooled off, they haven’t collapsed either. Carlos Gonzalez is having an MVP season with the bat, and is hitting equally well at Coors and on the road. Troy Tulowitzki has been even better, but is once again hurt, opening a big hole in the Rockies lineup. On the mound, Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin have stabilized a rotation expected to be a disaster. Now if they could stop the Roy Oswalt Experiment. If the Roc kies can hold it together until Tulowitzki returns, they could stick around the rest of the year.
Nobody thought much of the Padres (40-41) going into the year. In fact, it seems like no one ever thinks much of the Padres at all. They were hot a few weeks ago, but have cooled off since. The team is above average in run scoring so far, amazing given the extreme pitchers park where they ply their trade. The issue is most of the players that got them there- Jedd Gyorko, Everth Cabrera, Yonder Alonso- are currently injured. Overall though, it's an underrated group. The pitching is what's keeping San Diego from more though, as only the Brewers and Mets have given up more runs a game in the NL. Soft tossing lefty Eric Stults has been their best starter, which is never a good sign, and only Andrew Cashner shows much potential otherwise. Sum it up and the Padres look perfectly average.
The Dodgers (37-43) had the Most Disappointing Team Award on lock most of the year, but suddenly have won seven of eight and are just a game back of the Giants (38-42). This hot streak is mostly propelled by Yasiel Puig and a red hot Hanley Ramirez. Conversely, Matt Kemp continues to have a terrible year. Pitching wise, Clayton Kershaw is still the best in the game, while Hyun-jin Ryu has adapted to America well. On the other side, Zach Greinke has slightly disappointed, while Josh Beckett got hurt and is now officially out for the year. After everything though, the Dodgers sit just five games back. The averageness of the division just might save them.
Finally, we have the defending World Champion Giants. They have been going in the opposition direction, having lost six in a row. The surprise is that the problem in San Francisco is their much vaunted pitching. Madison Bumgarner has been fine, but after that? Matt Cain’s peripherals are similar to usual, but his ERA has ballooned to 4.29. Tim Lincecum did not find the Fountain of Youth and sports a 4.64 ERA. Barry Zito turned back into a pumpkin after his great postseason, while Ryan Vogelsong was terrible until (or because) he got hurt. Chad Gaudin was filling in ably, but he’s now hurt. Barring a trade, the Giants are stuck in wait and see mode to see if their big name pitchers start pitching like it again.
The beauty of the NL West though is that no one has distinguished themselves, and thus everyone is still in it.
What are your thoughts on the National League at the halfway point?